By Kevin Ferris
Take a moment to offer a prayer or good thoughts for Pvt. William Long and his family.
Long, 23, was murdered Monday outside the Army-Navy Career Center in suburban Little Rock, Ark. He and a fellow private, 18-year-old Quinton Ezeagwula, were on a smoke break. Long was shot three times, and died within the hour at a local hospital. Ezeagwula was hit at least twice, but is expected to survive.
They were both new to the Army. The two soldiers had recently completed basic and infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., and were on a short-term assignment that brought them home to talk with potential recruits about their experiences.
Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Tennessee man who converted to Islam, faces one count of capital murder and 15 counts of committing a terroristic act in the shootings. When he was arrested, police reportedly found guns and Molotov cocktails in his truck. Muhammad has pleaded not guilty.
“Political and religious” attack
Police and prosecutors have speculated that the “political and religious” attack was motivated by Muhammad’s desire to avenge U.S. military actions against Muslims. Neither victim had been in the service long enough to take action against anyone.
There are questions about whether Muhammad acted alone, or if there were other potential targets. The investigation continues.
However, those aren’t the only questions being raised. Bloggers and others contrast the limited media coverage of Long’s killing with the front-page headlines on the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. They wonder why the White House issued a statement of outrage almost immediately on the doctor, but waited days to say anything about the soldier. They point to claims that harsh anti-abortion rhetoric incited violence against Tiller, yet hear nothing about protests — and even attacks — against recruiters and other members of the military.
The questions are understandable. Some of the discussion might even be worth a listen. But before going too far down that road, focus on the Long family and their loss.
Lt. Col. Tom Artis, whose command includes the Little Rock center, said Long “was committed to service and always wanted to be a soldier.” His dad was a Marine; mom had served in the Navy. His brother is on active duty in the Army now.
Artis says those who knew Long at Fort Benning and at the recruiting center all have the same story.
“He was a great kid, highly motivated, always willing to learn, always trying to better himself,” Artis said. “That was one of the reasons we brought him back as a recruiter.”
Artis has also spoken to Long’s family.
“This business is not easy going,” he says. “But they are proud of his achievements and their heads are held high. They give me inspiration.”
To see what Artis means, watch the moving interview Long’s dad, Daris, gave KATV-TV in Arkansas. He was at work when he got the call about the attack. William’s mom was actually in the center’s parking lot reading, waiting to give their son a ride home. She heard the shots.
Daris Long chokes up when he talks about meeting Quinton’s family at the hospital, especially his mom. “We’re so glad that he’s alive,” Daris says, fighting back tears. “And we are so thankful for her kindness.”
On the way home, the Longs stopped at Walgreen’s, and when people heard it was his son that had been shot, a woman in line stepped up and paid for Daris’ Cokes and Ibuprofen, refusing to let him pay her back. “There are good people here,” he says in the interview, clearly moved.
Such a small gesture in many ways. One sliver of a moment, easily forgotten, in the tumult of this family’s grief. Much like this brief interview itself, it is just one small part of a week that has engulfed them in sorrow.
Neither the gestures nor the interview will end all the questions. Yet they are a good reminder that the questions aren’t the priority. Kindness and decency should come first at such times.
I’m grateful for the good people who have kept that lesson in mind.
X Kevin Ferris is assistant editor of the Editorial Page of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.